Deli shop in Columbia serves fresh food fast

Located in Hillcroft office park

July 07, 2005|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The owners of Lee's Deli Shop have taken a few steps to liven up that dreary institution known as the office-building sandwich shop.

Though the interior of the little deli on the ground floor of the new Hillcroft Executive Park in Columbia is nothing but shades of gray, flashes of humor and thoughtfulness warm the interior.

A giant jar of pickles by the cash register, for example, has a goofy face scrawled on it with permanent marker, and a note telling customers that the pickles actually served won't come from that jar and will be cold.

Packages of Alka-Seltzer are sold alongside the candy and gum, in case the execs working in the nearby offices need to settle stressed-out stomachs. And the gray expanse of counter where customers can eat their sandwiches and salads is strewn with the day's newspapers and thoughtfully positioned along a large window, so diners can either read or gaze out as they eat.

Lee's, which opened in May in the still-not-fully-occupied office park, caters mostly to the employees in the immediate vicinity, serving the expected breakfast sandwiches (combinations of sausage, ham, bacon, eggs and cheese), plus lunchtime deli salads, wraps and sandwiches.

The restaurant, owned by Myung Gyoon Shin and his wife, Hyun, also serves sushi, but only on Fridays. According to the owners' affable nephew, Scott Choe, who speaks for his aunt and uncle because they don't speak English well, the sushi was at first offered every day, but it didn't sell well enough to justify the effort.

Maybe once the buildings are full, it will do better, he said. Meanwhile, the restaurant will keep offering it on Fridays, he promised.

The sushi menu, still available for catered events with a two-day notice, sticks to the basics - rolls of rice filled with veggies and cooked ingredients, including a California roll with imitation crab, cucumber and avocado and a teriyaki chicken roll with avocado and sesame seeds, plus only the most popular raw-fish offerings, like tuna.

Meanwhile, the little deli is focusing on the American side of its menu with a roster of hot and cold sandwiches, made fresh as you wait. The best of the sampling I tried was a very respectable but thin Reuben featuring warm, lean meat, a slice of Swiss and a smattering of sauerkraut, all served on toasted rye, the way it's supposed to be.

A chicken Caesar wrap had some of the right ingredients - tender grilled chicken, lettuce and tomato - but was missing a critical one, Caesar dressing. Instead, it tasted as though it had been slathered with honey mustard. A slice of provolone also detracted from the Caesar-ness of the wrap.

In fact, the sandwich, wrapped in a bright-green spinach tortilla, tasted remarkably like the turkey and provolone wrap, which was supposed to have honey mustard.

"Salad platters" are made by taking prepared containers of lettuce, cucumber and other greens from the deli case and adding to them. Customers then choose their packet of dressing. I have to say, I wasn't in love with my shrimp salad. The tiny shrimp were drowning in too much mayonnaise for my taste.

Also in the deli cases were packaged slices of cakes and pies. The strawberry cheesecake suffered from a soggy crust, but to its credit tasted as though it had been made in the very recent past and had never encountered a freezer.

I get the feeling that the owners of Lee's care about serving fresh food and making sure their customers are treated well. Their deli serves fresh food, fast - a good fit for busy executives.

Lee's Deli Shop

Where: 6350 Stevens Forest Road, Columbia

Call: 410-381-7060

Open: Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Credit cards: none, but there's an ATM inside

Prices: $1.80-$5.75

Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Service: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

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